Wall Street CEO advises anyone struggling with work-life balance to take ‘take control of their own choices’



While many in banking accept long hours as part of the job, one of the longest-serving CEOs on Wall Street has just said that work-life balance is entirely achievable—but it’s up to you, not your boss, to make it happen. 

“You must take control of your own life choices,” Jefferies’ CEO Richard Handler said yesterday on his Instagram channel. “Nobody else can or will do it for you.”

Ultimately, as Handler points out, “businesses will allow you to work non-stop” if you let them. In the U.K. alone, organizations are gaining $33 billion of free labor from their workforce putting in 7.2 hours of overtime each week. 

But the clear win for companies comes to the detriment of workers’ health. If you fall into the trap of overworking each week, you will “burn out”, Handler warned. 

The 62-year-old who joined Jefferies in 1990 as a trader and salesman was answering questions on Instagram stories from his 48,000-strong fan base.

“Take responsibility for your own life today,” he concluded. “There are always times when sacrifices must be made and sometimes there are periods of intensity when you have absolutely no choice, but surprise, surprise, the world will keep turning if you inject the right amount of personal balance.”

As well as offering his take on work-life balance, Handler also touched on standing out, faking it until you make it, and making work more enjoyable.

Fortune contacted Handler for comment.

Work-life balance in banking

Really, achieving work-life balance in any industry is tough—let alone in the famously dog-eat-dog financial industry. Wall Street workers would often be on the job for 120 hours a week prior to the pandemic, with research revealing that it was leading to a range of physical and mental health problems in the sector. 

Much has changed since then, thanks to the pandemic-induced shift to working from home: Last year, more than two out of three banks were offering workers either full flexibility or some sort of hybrid-work arrangement, according to a survey of more than 300 financial services institutions by Scoop, which helps companies coordinate hybrid teams.

But banking giant bosses risk erasing these work-life balance gains with return-to-work mandates.

Both JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs have already ordered workers back to the office five days a week. The latter bank’s CEO, David Solomon, famously called remote working “an aberration that we’re going to correct as quickly as possible.”

Even Handler has previously said that “if you want a career”, then you’re better off regularly showing face and cozying up with your colleagues than confining yourself to a home desk. 

“Use wfh only when smart, flexibility is essential, mental health calls, and life balance needs help,” he said.

Again, he echoed that it’s on workers to find that “optimal balance in their lives while being able to build meaningful careers.”

How to make work feel less like ‘work’

Handler, who rose through the ranks from the bottom to the top job at the prestigious American financial institution, had plenty of advice for those just starting out in their career. 

To stand out among the crowd of juniors, he advised a follower to “think like a senior and do everything possible to make your seniors more effective and successful in serving their clients.”

Looking back, networking is the one thing Handler said he wished he did more of, and that setbacks ultimately led to growth.

“Take more risk to know more people by forcing myself out of my comfort zone to initiate and foster new relationships,” he reflected.

Meanwhile, if you want work to feel less like “work” and more like a passion project, Handler advised adopting an entrepreneurial mindset. 

“Throw yourself ‘all in’ and think and act like an ‘owner’,” he wrote. “You might not actually be an ‘owner’ yet, but acting like one every day in everything you do is the surest and fastest way of becoming one.” 

And don’t stress if you’re “just faking it till you make it”—as it turns out, he’s doing it too “every day”.

“I’ve just gotten better at it recently,” Handler joked.

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